Gone With The Wind
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Only myopia can obfuscate the writing on the wall. A power crisis should not be stalking Tamil Nadu (TN), not with over 50 per cent of the nation’s total wind-power generation capacity, at 3,684 MW, installed in the state. But though TN has the required infrastructure, there aren’t enough lines to carry the wind energy harnessed thus. The losses arising from poor connectivity are in the region of 800-900 MW, which is more than the current shortfall (see ‘Wait Until Dark’ on page 50). Load shedding and generation shedding have led to a double whammy. “Power cuts would not have come about had wind power been utilised fully,” says K. Kasturirangaian, vice-president of Indian Wind Power Association, in Chennai.
TN has only managed to generate 5,250 million units of wind power this year, despite its latent ability to generate 8,250 million units. In southern TN, out of the 2,207 MW installed capacity, only 1,200 MW was generated. The reason: poor power evacuation (transmission) infrastructure, and a decline in wind speeds by about 10-15 per cent. Indeed, the situation is particularly bad in the southern districts, where windmills are distributed widely, and often far from the consumption points. For instance, power generated in Tirunelveli has to be transmitted all the way to Madurai, 150 km away, but lines are not available. “Windmills have been pushed out of the grid,” regrets Kasturirangaian. “The carrying capacity is inadequate.”
Unlike conventional power generation projects, commissioning windmills takes relatively less time (three-six months). It costs about Rs 5 crore to set up a windmill. An additional Rs 25 lakh has to be paid to the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board (TNEB) as infrastructure charges. In the long run, wind power generation costs work out to Rs 2.50 per unit, which is much cheaper than grid power (Rs 4.30 per unit). A one-MW windmill generates 18 to 34 lakh units per year. TNEB purchases this power at Rs 2.90 per unit (around Rs 90 lakh for one MW).
With the loss of 500-900 MW, wind power producers have lost over Rs 900 crore in the past year. “Investments running into crores of rupees are being wasted because of bad transmission,” says S.D. Singh, president of Vestas RRB India, a leading manufacturer of windmills, in Chennai. Currently, windmills worth Rs 4,500 crore stand idle. “Wind power generators have been incurring heavy losses due to lack of infrastructure.” As a direct fallout, Vestas saw a 25-30 per cent drop in windmill offtake last year. Fearing cost over-runs, Kasturirangaian, who set up his first windmill in TN in 1994, now locates all his new windmill projects in neighbouring Karnataka.
Unlike elsewhere, independent producers in TN must route their sale only through TNEB, which discourages standalone windmill projects. Unsurprisingly, about 65 per cent of wind power generated in the state is for captive use.
TNEB, however, blames producers for the poor transmission. “They put up a unit every six months. We need at least 12 months for setting up lines,” says a senior TNEB official. The board has been asking producers to provide capacity addition plans for the next five years but response has been poor, he says. Connecting remote areas in the south to the grid is not easy as conduits must pass through private land.
Once a pioneer, TN’s incremental wind power capacity addition has been falling. The state, which added 800 MW and 550 MW capacity respectively in the past two years, is projected to add 400 MW this year. Wind accounts for 12 per cent of power generated in TN, a state endowed with hill passes and seas. “This could easily go up to 17 per cent,” says Kasturirangaian. If achieved, the environment will profit too.
(Businessworld Issue 05 - 11 February 2008)